“Tis not as it may seem Mistress…” Zandria muttered, with her feeble attempt at hiding the worn shovel behind her back. Merka looked upon the girl and frowned. Their resources were not to be wasted and she was very puzzled by Zandria’s actions. “Then, pray tell, what have you done with all of the ore?” She waited, impatiently, as Zandria fidgeted with the hem of her skirt. “Well?” Zandria looked at her Mistress, knowing she was a kind soul but very demanding all the same. She was a paladin of virtue and in the Royal Britannian Guard…perhaps she had not heard of the news spreading like wildfire across the lands. Then again, she had been acting awfully strange in the past few days…after her run in with Ezorn. He was an evil man; she could just sense it about him. She shuddered, thinking about his darkly handsome looks and lowered her eyes to the ground, he was trouble all right. “Mistress Merka…” She started, finding her voice weak and thin sounding “Have you not heard the news?” She peeked up, reading the look upon Merka’s face. Merka started, wondering what she could have missed. It had seemed as though her days had been blended together, each event tumbling upon the other. She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts and reflect on the news she had heard earlier in the day from her son Azriekel. Her mind clouded again, the information just out of her grasp. A frown traced upon her countenance and she sat back heavily in a small wooden chair. Zandria noticed the confusion on Merka’s face, at once concerned for her Mistress. She shuffled across the cobblestone floor and fetched a glass of cool water for her. She wondered what could have gotten into her. It was unlike her to be so scatterbrained, she was usually so very on top of situations. Zandria returned with the water, handing it to Merka and stepping back to take a good look at her. She was a hard woman, not unattractive but she wore the scars of battle and lacked the vanity of most women to hide them. Her armor was pristine, her weapons sharp and always ready, of that she personally made certain. But there was something wrong with her, her pallor was off, she was slightly pale and almost looked as though she had seen a ghost. Her eyes were lackluster, the normal gleam of readiness faded. While her armor shown like diamonds, her body seemed to shrink within it. “Tell me Zandria…tell me what I have missed” Merka finally spoke after taking long draws upon the goblet of water; she sounded defeated and almost forlorn. Zandria sat upon a stool opposite Merka, folding her work roughened hands in her lap, and told her of the events of last eve. She explained then why she was taking all of her ore to the specified drop points to help with the efforts and had thought that Merka would approve and encourage her as she had in the past. “Nearly 3000 ore Mistress, I have mined endlessly to help the cause…” Zandria paused “I thought you would approve” Merka stared at her, listening with feigned interest, her mind elsewhere, her thoughts scattering into the wind as quickly as they came. She focused in on the last thing Zandria said, her hands tensing upon the goblet and she rose swiftly to glare down upon a now trembling Zandria. “You dare waste our resources on a dying land?” She bellowed, her face growing a deep crimson with her anger “How dare you even presume to think for me girl!” She roared, tossing the finely crafted goblet across the shop. It struck the wall with such force that the metal crumpled and it clanged loudly to the floor. She towered over Zandria, her rage building in giant waves that washed over her. She stared hard at the girl, a surge of controlling power rose within her and she raised her hand to her. Zandria cowered, covering her head against the coming blow, whimpering and pleading with her Mistress. “Mother!” A loud voice boomed from the doorway. Merka turned, her gauntleted hand suspended in the air above Zandria’s head. A look of pure horror crossing her features as the dawning realization of what she was about to do crashed into her. It was suddenly all to much for her and as she stood staring at her son who stood looking at her with confusion and repulsion, she felt a wave of nausea rise and the world grow black.